OPINION: A Hillsboro tree tells the story of out-of-control development in the Beaver State.

COURTESY PHOTO: EVAN BRYAN - The Huffman Street oak north of Hillsboro in November 2020.As a native Oregonian, I very much value our state's bountiful natural resources. They fuel our homes, power our economy, provide recreation and give us pause as we navigate our increasingly complex world.

Unfortunately, many of Oregon's unique traits are hanging on by a thread due to unprecedented population growth. One of these unique natural wonders is the Oregon white oak.

These oaks can live to be hundreds of years old and were once found throughout the Willamette Valley. According to the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, 95% of white oak habitats have been destroyed. As Oregonians, we cannot let these majestic trees disappear.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that one of these historic white oaks was in line to be cut down to make way for an "interim road" in an industrial area north of Hillsboro. As a longtime resident of the area, this was concerning to me. I contacted the city manager's office and they agreed to look into it.

A week later, I received a response from Hillsboro's capital and development division manager who told me that the tree cannot be saved. What's most upsetting is that the manager told me that building the road around the tree would "limit the ability of that property for future development." That is not the "Oregon Way" and certainly not a mentality that an Oregon government should have.

I was told by the city of Hillsboro that they plan to "mitigate" the loss of this tree by planting new ones at a nearby city-owned property. While they agree that it is truly an amazing feat of nature, it must be cut down to make way for "progress."

I pointed out that Hillsboro has been recognized as a Tree City USA by The Arbor Day Foundation. Unfortunately, that is interpreted as a mitigation tool and not necessarily as a call to protect historic trees or botanical heritage. It all comes down to cost according to the city. Well, at what cost does it take before we realize the importance of environmental preservation and protection?

I agree that economic development is important for Oregon and the "Silicon Forest," but I would suggest that we start saving some of the forest before it becomes the "Silicon Plain." We simply cannot pave over Oregon's history and natural identity for a data center or corporate facility with no regional ties. It's time we preserve and protect the Oregon we know and love.

Not many communities can claim to have trees that were shading ground before the United States was even a country. Historic oaks such as the Five Oaks north of Hillsboro were spared from the chainsaw and incorporated into the surrounding development over two decades ago. Today, Oregonians and tourists can visit the site and learn how the Atfalati tribe used to camp there or how Joe Meek and early explorers used the trees as landmarks while they explored the uncharted territory.

The reality is that values cannot be mitigated. Oregon is undergoing a time of unprecedented change. While change can be good, we must remember the words of former Gov. Tom McCall: "The interests of Oregon for today and in the future must be protected from the grasping wastrels of the land. We must respect another truism — that unlimited and unregulated growth, leads inexorably to a lowered quality of life."

Those words could not be truer today. Oregon's natural integrity must be protected.

Evan Bryan is a farmer north of Hillsboro and a longtime legislative aide in Oregon and Washington, D.C.

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